Maria Schneider opens her pastoral world to darkening clouds

Orchestra leader Maria Schneider demonstrates the nuance in her conducting technique which employs arms, hands and body English, but no baton. All photos by Kevin Lynch

ELMHURST, IL – Something ominous trails through the wind. Most everyone attuned to electronic media can feel it by now, if not wholly understand. It hovers at a crossroads in a busy city street, but for Maria Schneider it may feel like intrusion on a desolate but beautiful country road in Minnesota, not far from her hometown.

Same difference in the larger scheme, this is a state of mind and maybe of spirit. But after this concert, one senses Schneider’s crossroads stands near humanity’s choice between Robert Frost’s road less traveled and the one we seem headed on directly, into the mysteries and maelstrom of technology.

The technology engulfs us psychically among many other ways. And this woman, who has reached an artistic pinnacle using a traditional communicative technology – composing and arranging for her jazz orchestra – feels the dichotomy intensely. Now she’s shared her angst with her public.

In a way, the occasion allows us to see anew the choice – which way to travel. Schneider showed at this live concert Saturday that she remains the mistress of hill and dale, of The Thompson Fields near where she grew up.

She’s a conjurer of atmospheres as thick as pea soup and as palpable as the mist that swept steadily across the nocturnal landscape on this climactic evening of the 51st Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.

The pivotal work of the evening, she explained, is a recent and yet unrecorded commission. She calls the composition “Data Lords,” an oddly evocative title that brings to mind alien presences, perhaps like those in the Star Wars saga. Schneider has chosen to grapple with the huge technology media giants like Google, she says, which have transformed the way we live and communicate. The title references directly the exponential rise of artificial technology which may, before long, grow so powerful as to become more intelligent than humans. She’s taken considerable control with the independent record label ArtistShare. But she’s hardly alone in fearing, but for what exactly? We can’t know for sure right now.

I’d venture that the somewhat politically conservative “big band” genre is undergoing changes, certainly forged and liberated by Sun Ra among a few others. But more recently this impressionistic field-leaper may feel the dark, restless cloud of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, a jazz orchestra which, from its name on up, seems born for the age of Trump, with persuasively dark social themes that thunder across apocalyptic aural landscapes. This year Argue even overtook Schneider in the Down Beat Jazz Critics Poll for best jazz orchestra.

The times do seem to call for music that proves or inspires intense, extended contemplation and discussion, and Schneider’s Data Lords provides an appropriate couching for such concerns, and is hardly built for easy comfort.

We know her as a sonic magician in the tradition of Gil Evans and Duke Ellington and here she lets loose some reins because her control is always measured by a desire to allow her creative musicians to fly enough free, like those she evokes in celebrated pieces like “The Monarch and the Milkweed.” Her artistic reach can encompass much of nature and humanity.

One might even imagine her with a hopeful fancy. In announcing her exquisite piece “Home,” from her 2017 Grammy Award-winning album The Thompson Fields, she sounded like she’d uttered “Hope.” The tender concerto for tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and the orchestra glowed like a melding of healing and replenishment.

Rather then a top-down leadership, Schneider demonstrates a close creative symbiosis with all of her ensemble’s members.

And yet the concert provided abundant evidence that humanity is Schneider’s greatest concern – along with the faltering milieu of Nature, as source of such spiritual succor. First, there’s the fact that she creates music for the largest-populated ensemble of America’s indigenous art form, the jazz orchestra. So it is not only the sounds and extra-musical themes, but the living beings who produce them, that she tends to.

Accordionist and pianist Gary Versace, demonstrates the deep range of sonic possibility that composer-arranger Maria Schneider explores as a matter of course.

This was as evident in the fraught commission piece as any, as she allowed a kind of freedom for her players to rise up, commingle and explore together. She employed dissonance and collective improvising, but always controlled to some degree while repeatedly exhorting the orchestra to reach for bold, courageous outer limits.

She demonstrated her great artistry as a conductor, a craft of nuance and evocative power. Even on a damp February night, she wore her virtual trademark, a sleeveless blouse which seems to serve musical purpose in that her arms, like any conductor’s, crucially convey her artistry’s particular powers. The limbs, adorned only with passion, move as meaningfully as an airborne embrace.

Her personal connection to her musicians arose immediately in the opening piece, “A Potter’s Song,” an ode to Lori Frank, of whom she wrote in her Thompson Fields liner notes, as “our dear friend who played trumpet in the band since the making of our first recording in 1990. Lori was a fellow Midwesterner by birth, born in Nebraska. A person of  tremendous integrity, talent, skill, humor, warmth, and tenderness, she’s deeply missed by all who knew, played, studied, or shared a ceramic studio with her.”

Note, in the lilting staccato of her extended description of Ms. Frank, an ardor that underlies the rhythms of Schneider’s radiant lyricism.

When she’s not conducting, Schneider remains closely attuned to the playing of each soloist, here trombonist Marshall Gilkes.

It’s also evident in concert that she’s intensely involved in appreciating her band members’ playing. When they solo with only the rhythm section, she refrains from conducting but remains vibrantly attracted, like a moth to the flame. She seems also to revel in the presence of the audience, as “so many smiling faces,” which might seem innocuous or even heart-string plucking. But Schneider risks such a moment with the adroitness of her music’s redeeming powers. Even if the utterance summons sentiment, it’s the finest-honed kind, worthy of a heart’s game sturdiness.

Similarly, in an act somewhat unusual for a “star” of this magnitude playing in a formal concert hall, Schneider offered, at the end, herself to her fans, to chat and sign autographs right at the foot of the stage, where a long line of admirers quickly accumulated.

Maria Schneider expressed deep appreciation to each soloist as well as to the large audience at Saturday’s climax to the Elmhurst Jazz Festival.

If this night’s music be food for thought as well as feast, I’m thankful for the wealth and bounty Schneider has wrought over several decades, as she’s climbed to her pinnacle. One senses, however, she’s hardly finished with searching out new peaks, that hill and dale will follow her far, more likely to sunlight than not.



Reflecting on Rich Mangelsdorff and Lake Michigan waves of “raised consciousness”


Back cover of “The Collected Essays of Rich Mangelsdorff,” Dustbooks, 1977. Courtesy Harvey Taylor

“I love all men who dive. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go down stairs five miles or more…” – Herman Melville, in a letter to a friend, critic-editor Edward Duyckinck, March 3, 1849, three years before the publication of Moby-Dick.


Until I visited him in the hospital a few days ago, long-time Milwaukee arts journalist, essayist and poet Rich Mangelsdorff had faded somewhat in my memory, but not my consciousness. I think he would readily appreciate the distinction. Despite his comparative absence from the scene in recent years, part of my sense and critical understanding of the city’s cultural scene is formed by Mangelsdorff.

He wrote insightfully about the importance of “raised consciousness” in his substantial book Collected Essays of Rich Mangelsdorff published in 1977.

Mangelsdorff always cut an imposing intellectual as well as physical figure, as a tall, large-framed man with a high forehead and a fulsome black beard. He spoke deliberately and sometimes with pointed pungency. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Yet, as I describe him in my forthcoming book Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy, a high-pitched giggle incongruously emitted from his hulking frame, disarming some who might’ve been otherwise intimidated. This man’s character and personality intrigued and attracted me.

Today he remains – even lying in a hospital bed after surgery to diminish his serious bladder cancer – keenly attuned to the idea of comedy. As we talked, he brought up the  acerbic, machine-gun-mouth social-critic comic Lenny Bruce. I’d asked him about what sort of perspective might have been lost from the days when he was writing his essays in the 1970s.

“So much of it has to do with the use of computers and smartphones.” Mangelsdorff said, referencing recent research showing how excessive use of smart phones may negatively impact cognitive and literacy abilities. Ironically, Rich now struggles to speak, due to medications and cancer’s ravages, but his brain remains vise-like. “But also, years ago we had somebody like Lenny Bruce,” he says. “He wouldn’t be listened to now, but I saw him at a Milwaukee club in April of 1966 or 1967, and one woman stood up and called him an asshole. Then there was Mort Sahl, who paved the way for Lenny Bruce and others.”

These comics fearlessly spoke truth to power, as harpooners of squirming hypocrites. Bruce fought the law and the law won – the battle, but not the war.

Front and back cover of Lenny Bruce album, “What I was Arrested For,” Douglas Records,  1971.

A brief Lenny Bruce bit from “What I was Arrested For,”  which punctures conventions of perception based on skin color:

And here’s a more provocative and funny Bruce bit: “How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties” from the album Buyer Beware:

To me, Rich Mangelsdorff, even now, hooked to an oxygen respirator, is like a great, graying Buddha. Perhaps, the laughing Buddha, but also one who, back then, in his trademark black leather jacket, could as readily fall into meditative silence, sometimes stewing about injustice, corruption or unheard prophets.

As for the rise of Donald Trump, Mangelsdorff says those who voted for him and continue to support him reflect, aside from delusion, “a malignancy of spirit. People actually choose the path of division rather than the path of unity. People think that Hillary might’ve had an easier time, but I don’t know.  It’s like we’re constantly dealing with an old, drunken, ranting white man.”

As for my aforementioned Mangelsdorff “consciousness” factor: He was my counterpart as jazz critic for The Milwaukee Sentinel in the 1980s while I was covering jazz for The Milwaukee Journal. I often had the advantage of seeing Mangelsorff’s review of what I was writing about. The morning Sentinel’s first edition circulated The Journal newsroom to the few people at work, usually while I wrote my review, which would run in the afternoon.

I never mimicked his insights, but they helped refract my own perspective on what I had just experienced. You can see for yourself our parallel critical commentary in the journalism anthology Milwaukee Jazz Gallery 1978-1984, published in its second edition last year, and available at Boswell Books and Woodland Pattern, as well as online.  Mangelsdorff had to shoot from the hip, with tough-minded, vivid accuracy.

I still picture him on tight deadline, a dark, furrowed brow, harrumphing softly to himself, as an insight or phrase came to mind.

Here’s an example, from Selected Essays, of his unassumingly deft comparative plumbing of the creative webs that entwine jazz and poetry:

“I’d personally like to see more poets take off in that direction – not the jive it could easily degenerate into, or the slavish imitation of some favored ethnic rap, but rather, synthesis in the direction of something loosely brilliant, like Elvin Jones or Billy Higgins playing drums (and how many poets with big ears has jazz loosened up, speaking of latter-day influences?).” 1

Or check out this long, powerful riff which marks the dynamic immediacy of the era’s contemporary jazz and presages the ascendance and profound impact of rap and hip-hop music in 1972.

How many people of any stripe have seen such connections, taken these sorts of double-dip deep dives (above and below), back then?

“I’d always felt this gap between the means and language of poetry in the kind of swift, mental-energy exchanges that black people could get down on rapping in the street, that comics like Lenny Bruce communicate & that they’re spritzing back room precursors, by-passing explanational trappings, could communicate even more truly, that jazz musicians (and Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Shepp and the All-Star Blue Note lineups of Hancock, Davis, Williams, Hutcherson, Hubbard, et. al. were fueling my head like butane in those days) evidenced with grippingly articulate abandon and/or snake charming wiliness.” 2.

Rich and I were mutually respectful competing journalistic colleagues, but also friends, especially as two of the closest compadres of the late but unforgettable Jim Glynn. Despite being paraplegic from a Jeep crash while serving in Europe during the Vietnam War, Glynn possessed uncanny dynamism and charisma, especially as a high-flying culture vulture, a vision of inspiration lifting his disabled body improbably along to the hippest or most important music event in town.

Mangelsdorff’s Selected Essays remain paramount in his still-underserved literary legacy. Read insightful literary criticism of the iconoclastic poet Charles Bukowski and others influenced by him, like Doug Blazek, T.L. Kryss and Bill Wantling. In another essay, he holds up to light the period’s best contemporary experimental fiction: “its exterior is complex, even baffling, to anyone not sufficiently high to get into it. Yes, that’s what I said. Raised consciousness. That’s what she’s all about. Read people like Wildman, Chambers, Sukenick: they’re talking to a new and different fictive sensibility, even if, as was the case with Joyce and his Dublin (and Dubliners), it is one which has already generalized itself through our lives and times.” 3

Note his vernacular use of the female pronoun. Mangelsdorff sounded a unifying, if challenging, clarion for all sensate beings, right from his first-ever piece of criticism for Kaleidoscope, the pioneering alternative newspaper in Milwaukee in the 1960s:

“Serious rock (music) is a constant pushing forward of the shores of awareness, expanding the frontiers of sound and, as the liner notes to Jimi Hendrix’s album state: put(ting) the heads of…listeners into some novel positions,’ i.e. consciousness expansion…” 4

In that Kaleidoscope essay Mangelsdorff also underscores specifically the “psychedelic experience,” as an empowering medium which may yet provide incalculable potential for humanity. It’s easy to poo-poo such notions today, when we assume most of our power lies in a click under our finger, a mouse that potentially roars. That click can also sound like a solitary cricket, meandering, lost, easily manipulated. Surely we need fresh, diverse ways to tackle the intransigence of our political and social institutions. 4

Mangelsdorff’s writing still carries a load, as America grapples with marijuana legalization, with the herb’s great medical value, and reputation, anecdotally and deeply researched, for expanding consciousness, to frontiers far beyond the shores of reactionary stumbling blocks.

He long foreshadowed rock songwriters as Nobel winners, how various American artistic vernaculars generate “novel” intellectual and spiritual positions, which lead to enlightened action. Could we still imagine alt-music and culture growing against the craggy crevasses of “malignancy,” like a healing, marching cry along “the path of unity”? Might the culture yet form diverse yet converging paths, rising in rough-but-ready harmony, powered by a sum greater than their individual massed strengths?

Steve Cohen, the renowned blues-jazz harmonica-guitar virtuoso, is among many local musicians who hold this writer in high esteem. “When he was in full swing, I thought Rich was the best music critic in town,” Cohen says. “When my band Leroy Airmaster made an album, I wanted to him to do the liner notes and he did a great job. He would also visit my radio program on WMSE in the 1980s and offer his insights, which I thought were as great as any in the world.”

As Mangelsdorff sits now in his seventh floor hospital room, he can see the classic North Avenue light tower, standing over Lake Michigan’s vast horizon of darkly brooding clouds, like a sentinel. We talked for nearly two hours, so I suspect he was exhausted, although he was happy and urged me to come again.

North Avenue Water tower, Milwaukee. Courtesy

I suspect he soon fell asleep, but I’d prefer to think such a mind – long immersed in cutting-edge literature and culture – might have rechanneled its consciousness, maybe alighted upon the great rhetorical pondering of Philip K. Dick: “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” That, of course, was the original title of the Dick novel that became the pioneering noir sci-fi film Blade Runner. The novel, published in 1968, is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Planet Earth, ravaged by nuclear global war, is invaded by android aliens who may – or may not – threaten human survival. Most animal species are endangered or extinct from extreme radiation poisoning, and owning an animal, an “electric sheep” is now a sign of status and empathy.

That attitude brings myriad intelligent species on a path closer to survival, like a new Noah’s ark at a wary dawn, where perhaps little remains of Milwaukee’s magnificent shore, but that sentinel tower on North Avenue.

Rich also would likely know that “The Sentinel” was the original name of Arthur C. Clarke’s story, upon which was born the mind-expanding film 2001: A Space Odyssey. No matter where Rich Mangelsdorff’s consciousness soon ends up, the arrow in his well-stocked quiver will aim for the stratosphere.


1, Rich Mangelsdorff, “Towards Understanding How We Sound,” from The Selected Essays of Rich Mangelsdorff, Dustbooks Press, The “American Dust” Series,” Vol. 8, 1972, 13

2. Mangelsdorff, “I Still Think About Ole Magazine,” Selected Essays, 31

3. Mangelsdorff, “Consideration of Panache Magazine,” Selected Essays, 17

4. Rich Mangelsdorff, from www.zonyx.netRich Mangelsdorff’s debut rock criticism (on Jimi Hendrix) in “Kaleidoscope” newspaper.  On this link, scroll down a ways in Mike Zettler’s lead article “The Oral Freedom League..Kaleidoscope Revisited,” for the Mangelsdorff quote.

This article was originally published in shorter form at The Shepherd Express at Paying Tribute to Milwaukee’s Rich Mangelsdorff

Belated posting of my poll choices for Best Roots Albums 2017

Fort Atkinson (WI) singer-songwriter Bill Camplin (right, or wrong) at the barn where he recorded “Reunion at Ebbott’s Barn.” Photo by Lee Matz, Milwaukee Independent

Well, its roots music, so somebody could accuse me of having my head in the ground listening to this stuff, so it took me this long to post this “year end” list. No, I wasn’t down in the ostrich hole being a roots music whisperer (psst: we got kinds and sorts of  “whisperers” these days, and some even make money off the claims. not me. keep this to yourself) This list was posted in timely fashion in December on the No readers poll (I’m a ND contributor, but also a reader).

With that very whispery throat-clearing, let me get to it, before you fall asleep on the delete key, or get hypnotized

Looking over my best roots music of 2017 list, it remains quite evident how the look-to-the-past impulse still drives forward much vital music today, as evidenced most obviously by Old Crow Medicine Show‘s reworking of a Dylan masterpiece,  jazz drummer Adam Nussbaum‘s delightfully quirky, percolating and lilting instrumental extrapolations on crusty old Leadbelly songs, and at least the nominal sentiments of Chuck Prophet‘s title song about Bobby Fuller (if you haven’t seen Prophet live, he’s a high-energy, hilarious gas). And my second-favorite album by Allison Moorer and sister Shelby Lynne, was a surprising collection – almost all covers of well-aged songs by two talented songwriters, thus acknowledging various favorites that have impacted their sensibilities, as well as the psyche-shaping traumas of early childhood the sisters shared.

In terms of more urgently contemporary songwriters, Steve Earle has been among the three or four best songwriters we have for a number of years, and his new album shows he’s hardly slowing down. Indeed, he still embracing his youthful outlaw attitude, even though his graying beard may touch his toes any day now.
For 2017, just beneath the Steve Earle singer-songwriting strata were Son Volt’s Jay Farrar (who still has the most oddly affecting male voice in roots music), enchanting song whisperer Kris Delmhorst (she really is a whisperer, making an art of the low dynamic), and Charlie Parr, who’s best known as a gritty country blues interpreter but displays songwriting chops of increasingly powerful emotive impact on DogPenny and Sparrow delivers soulful songwriting and warm, softly-prickling vocal harmonizing you can take an aural shower in.

But I’ll probably go back to The Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s live set as often as any of these, because I just love their collective power, color, passion, joy and sorrow, all of which can recharge your inner batteries very quickly. How much is that ability worth? Little wonder Live from the Fox Oakland was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. This captured them at their best: flexing and stretching their artistic muscles on a stage with a crowd soaking it all up.

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Grammy-nominated live album. Courtesy 45worlds.

Finally I’d like to give some slightly extended kudos (time to hit the annoying snooze button, or scroll down to the Top Ten list, if you prefer) to a couple of Wisconsin artists who deserve more visibility than they’ve received for their recorded and live efforts this year. One is old (and almost in the way) and always low in the weeds, Mudbutt Bill Camplin. The other is a young artist, Anthony Deutsch (Father Sky) who’s just breaking through the mud like a reedy-spined wild flower that simply won’t be denied all the sunshine and earth soul he can drink in.

Camplin (pictured at top, in my favorite roots-music artist photo of the year) proves on Reunion at Ebbott’s Barn he remains among the finest roots music vocal stylists anywhere. And only because he’s stayed put – running an appealingly fishy music venue, Café Carpe, on the Rock River (hope no Asian Carp are flopping out onto the rain garden!) in a small Wisconsin town (Fort Atkinson) – keeps him from wider recognition. He still improbably possesses one of the more ardently bracing voices you will hear, with a remarkable dynamic range from mid-high baritone to brilliant falsetto. Or he may simply be possessed, by a devil whupping on an angel.

Reunion is ostensibly a do-we-still-remember-these-songs get-together of the band that recorded Camplin’s tattered album Cardboard Box many years ago. It’s among the more distinctive albums in his impressive catalog. By this early point, Camplin’s own songwriting chops had become fully realized and “Long and Desperate Day,” and “Essence of Freedom,”  remain in his playbook. Many of his songs stand up to anyone’s in quality, especially as he delivers them.  “Northern Lights” is among the lesser-known Camplin originals here, a large-hearted beauty floating on a rich band pulse and the gleaming pearls of his arching falsetto, with a lovely melody the singer squeezes out like a juicy grape bursting from its skin. Another original, the album closer “Inspiration,” has comparable power and beauty. It fairly soars, and might just boot you out of your easy chair to try for something good or great, something waiting patiently to be freed from within, or wherever.

This band can also rumble and swing, in a bluesy groove, as in Camplin’s “Somebody’s Mood.”

Among the notable covers on Reunion are two rather mythical story-songs, “This Wheel’s on Fire” by The Band’s Rick Danko and Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.” (“I don’t know what it means, but it sure the hell is evocative,” Camplin says of “Pancho.”)

By contrast, Camplin’s take on Leonard Cohen’s romantic reverie “Suzanne” seems like his own song, he brings out the rapt yearning implicit in Cohen’s poetry. It’s there in his still-radiant voice, subtle dynamics, and deftly open-spaced phrasing, as if he’s carving out his own places in the song’s memory. Here and elsewhere, longtime compatriot Jason Klagstad’s guitar remains a perfect complement, pointillistic and crystalline, with an expressive edge.

If Eric Burdon’s version of “House of the Rising Sun.”with The Animals remains a modern standard for this ancient classic, Camplin approaches it with a beneath-the-radar restraint but a proper sense of building dynamics, and takes-you-down-there storytelling.  And he’s capable of the full-throated climax that can take this as high as the rising sun.  Bob Knetzger’s dobro adds another vivid presence. “Mother tell your children, not to do what I have done.” In that moment, Camplin’s woeful narrator feels the pain of his profound mistake from his boots on up, and so do you.

Camplin’s covers amount to reinvigorated takes on familiar material that add another resonant layer to each song’s powerful vibrations down through cultural history.


The other Wisconsin artist who I felt sneaking up with the best was Father Sky, with the group’s eponymous album debut album. It’s the brainchild of young Milwaukee pianist and singer-songwriter Anthony Deutsch, a startling redolent talent. His style is is seemingly neither fish nor fowl, but it fits into roots music because he’s deeply influenced by great blues-gospel-jazz artists, especially Nina Simone. It’s fascinating to hear a white male singer whose primary influence is a black female singer, although Simone’s deep, whiskey-hued voice plausibly fits a male’s vocal range. Another connection I hear in Deutsch’s music is that of wonderful singer-songwriter pianist in the gospel and jazz idiom, Andy Bey.

(Footnotes beside titles in the list below provide links at the bottom to albums I reviewed for other publications and this blog, with the Steve Earle piece being a concert review.).


My Top Ten No Best Roots Music Albums of 2017

Steve Earle (right) performing music from his album “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw” at the Minneapolis Zoo last summer. Photo by Kevin Lynch

1. Steve Earle – So You Wanna Be an Outlaw  1

2. Allison Moorer & Shelby Lynne – Not Dark Yet  2

3. Old Crow Medicine Show – 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde  3

4. Charlie Parr – Dog  4

5. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Live from the Fox Oakland

6. Chuck Prophet – Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

7. Kris Delmhorst – The Wild

8. Son Volt – Notes of Blue

9. (Tie)   Bill Camplin – Reunion at Ebbott’s Barn (see review above), and Father Sky – Father Sky, 5

!0. (Tie) Adam Nussbaum – The Leadbelly Project, and Penny and Sparrow – Wendigo



  1. Steve Earle: The Hard-Core Troubadour Carries Wounds in his Outlaw Heart


Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer venture deep into darkness past and coming


Old Crow Medicine Show proves the “Blonde” tonic still zings after 50 years


On “Dog,” bluesman Charlie Parr sees canines on a par with humans


Father Sky is soulful music to your ears and to the earth





Opening doors of modern jazz history with Milwaukee-native trumpeters Brian Lynch and Jamie Breiwick


Photo montage of recording sessions for Brian Lynch’s Grammy-nominated album “Madera Latino: A Latin Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw.” In photo at lower right, Lynch the is trumpeter in the middle, in black hat.

Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch presents a master class and lecture, at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1583 N. Prospect Ave., 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, free admission.

Dreamland performing at Blu nightclub in Milwaukee. Photo by Kevin Lynch

Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick’s Dreamland, at Company Brewing, 735 E. Center St. , 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10. $10.

A man who sort of lived in his own world, Thelonious Monk was always so much his own man artistically that he was sometimes aptly characterized as “The Loneliest Monk.” But it turns out that the bebop pioneer, who really forged a zig-zag, one-of-a-kind road before dying in 1982, simply will not be forgotten, for the array of ingenious and appealing qualities in his music.

So here we are in 2018, and The New York City Jazz Record, a publication based in America’s jazz capital but with a national scope and reach, improbably chose the late Thelonious Monk as one of five 2017 “Musicians of the Year” in its January issue, along with four very living musicians.

Among the apparent reasons for Monk’s reincarnation is the first-time issue of Monk’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960, music recorded for but never used in Roger Vadim’s daring film of the same name. The record proved to be vintage Monk bouncing and burning in his prime, and was chosen for my Culture Currents blog’s Historic Jazz Recording of the Year, and by the NYC Jazz Record as one of its “Unearthed Gems ” of 2017. The Danilo Perez Panamonk, a Monk tribute band led by Perez, the celebrated pianist, delivered one of NYC Jazz Record’s “concerts of the year.”

Perhaps most notably among the back-from-the-dead Monk factors was trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, arguable the most critically-acclaimed jazz musician of the last several years, releasing a new album drawing raves: Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk, one of the NYC Jazz Record’s “albums of the year.” The album also prompted a long essay on Smith in the Feb. 8th issue of The New York Review of Books, a rare distinction for a jazz recording.  Smith’s trumpeting finds a deep and expansive connection with the uncannily artful use of space (as in silence between notes) and seemingly disjunct rhythm in Monk tunes, an aesthetic that Smith has cultivated on his own terms for years.

Thelonious Monk, UPI-Photo Courtesy of the heirs of W. Eugene Smith and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

All of this Monk creative energy spins across the nation and spirals down into Milwaukee for a notable Monk event this weekend. Like the Pulitzer Prize Finalist and MacArthur “genius” Award-winning Smith, Jamie Breiwick is a gifted trumpeter who loves to use his horn and brains to cut through the complexities, felicities and revelations of Monk’s music. His Monk repertory band Dreamland will perform Saturday at 9 p.m. at Company Brewing.

The Dreamland band includes Jamie Breiwick, trumpet; Jonathan Greenstein, tenor saxophone; Mark Davis, piano; Clay Schaub, bass; and Devin Drobka, drums. Through several personnel incarnations the band’s piano and drums chairs – crucial to executing Monk – have remained constantly Davis and Drobka. The multifaceted Breiwick has been honing and fleshing out this pet project for several years and this highly accomplished band is preparing for a live recording, reportedly at Company Brewing’s neighbor venue, The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, this spring.

Jamie Breiwick, founder and leader of the Thelonious Monk repertory band Dreamland. 

Breiwick is actually a Racine native and resident, but does the majority of his performing in Milwaukee and is co-founder and principal manager of Milwaukee Jazz Vision, a website that promotes local jazz and archives the music’s history in this city. Among his other adventures and exploits have included spear-heading the all-original-music concept of The Lesser Lakes Trio and playing trumpeter Don Cherry’s role in an Ornette Coleman re-enactment tribute band at Company Brewing a few years ago. He also played several gigs in New York and Chicago recently with acclaimed drummer-bandleader Matt Wilson.

Yet for Breiwick, also a Grammy-winning music educator, Monk is as musically fecund and enlightening as any modern music.

Truth be told, reinterpreting and reimagining Monk’s music in recording and tribute band projects has occurred consistently ever since his passing, thus honoring him probably more than any other jazz composer over that 35-year period. Nevertheless, Breiwick and his Dreamland band (named for an intriguingly obscure Monk composition) has carved its own distinctive niche in Monkism with a rich perspective on this perpetually engrossing and delightful music. We’re about a year beyond the 35th anniversary year of Monk’s death – he passed on February 17, 1982. So mounting a Dreamland gig one week before his death’s exact anniversary day feels very apt for making a big Monk statement, with Dreamland’s Saturday date, and later the impending live recording.

Breiwick has strove to explain why Monk has so captivated his musical imagination and why listeners have so much to gain and enjoy. In his own blog, Breiwick wrote: “I remember trying to play ‘Think of One,’ having never played it before – maybe, having never even heard it before. I remember having the feeling that the composition led me into different melodic and rhythmic directions. Directions I might not have otherwise chosen. I also remember feeling like whatever I decided to play, would fit – free, loose, fast, slow, spacious, angular.

“It intrigued me, and the adventure began. It led me to explore other artists who found inspiration in Monk’s compositions such as: Steve Lacy, Barry Harris, Don Cherry, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Bud Powell, Jason Moran, Sonny Rollins, Ethan Iversen (of The Bad Plus, who has written about Monk in depth) among others. One of the things I started to do was analyze how others approached improvising over those difficult harmonies and forms.” Here’s the blog link, filled also with many fine reader responses to Breiwick’s rhetorical question: Why Thelonious Monk?

What’s remarkable though is, no matter how difficult and recondite Monk’s music can be for musicians to play, almost invariably it has its own peculiar drama and suspense, rhythmic buoyancy and melodic charm. Most of his beautiful ballads (“Round Midnight,” “Ruby My Dear,” etc.) are appropriately reflective and romantic, but almost all of his medium-tempo music brims with wit and humorous surprises. You may find yourself laughing at it, or with it. If you haven’t tried Monk, you may be surprised how much you like him. You might even find yourself, later on, drifting into a dreamland inhabited by the mysterious Monk and is uncanny ways.


Brian Lynch is a classic story of local boy made good and, singer Al Jarreau aside, he’s succeeded perhaps more than any Milwaukee jazz musician of the modern jazz era, and since. In fact, this year, Lynch – after a long, auspicious journey as a post-bop pied piper – seems to have reached the jazz mountaintop.

His compelling and often dazzling two-CD set Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw pulled off a musically ambitious concept with stunning authority that garnered him widespread praise, including being selected as Album of the Year and Lynch chosen as Trumpeter of the Year in the Jazz Journalists Association poll (arguably the most definitive jazz poll – of committed critics who pay for membership). Among other critical responses were glowing reviews in DownBeat (four stars), Jazz Times and on Amazon. The music interprets, in crackling Latin grooves, a variety of Woody Shaw compositions and a few strong Lynch originals.

Madera Latino (a nifty wordplay, “Latin wood”) employs ensembles ranging from nonets to sextets, and Lynch dared have trumpeters carry the front-line load with nary a saxophonist. The notables include trumpeters Dave Douglas, Shawn Jones and Michael Rodriguez and fellow Milwaukee-native trumpeter Philip Dizack, and powerful rhythm sections, including drummer Obed Calvaire from the SFJAZZ Ensemble. Percussionists Pedro Martinez and Little Johnny Rivero, with bassist Luques Curtis, played with Lynch on Simpatico, his 2006 album with Eddie Palmieri which snagged the co-leaders a Grammy award for Best Latin Jazz Album. And this year Madera Latino was nominated for a Grammy in the same category.

Wednesday Lynch returns to his hometown, which he does at least once annually, for a master class and lecture at his alma mater, The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. He’ll also exercise his versatility by performing this weekend with the Bill Bonifas Electric Band and the Milwaukee Ballet Thursday through Sunday, in a program of local choreographers and musicians titled “Made in MKE” at The Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall.

But the jazz master class with students and lecture at the Conservatory is a free event and a great way to get an up-close feel for the way Lynch thinks, plays and educates. He’s a professor of music at the University of Miami and, aside from his extraordinary album, Lynch asserted himself as arguably the leading authority on Woody Shaw’s music (with a Latin slant) in his remarkably in-depth and insightful “Brass School” article – including 12 (count ’em) illustrated musical examples of Lynch’s Madera Latino arrangements – in DownBeat magazine in April 2016.

Lynch’s lecture Wednesday is titled “Improvisation Concepts: Line, Shape, and Rhythm.” He explains in an e-mail: “I’m going to attempt to convey these general concepts as they pertain to the traditional jazz solo, and also demonstrate how mindfulness can be used to reinforce or play with the typical narratives of an improvised solo structure in chorus or open form. I hope to give the listener insight into how the jazz improviser constructs his or her solo statement, and food for thought on improvisational strategies for the musician.”

Given the deliverer, this talk may provide food for thought for anyone who values this nation’s original American art form, and the ways it has helped, and may yet still, enrich the American experiment.


Climate change is so real I crash landed in the January grass

I had no anticipation except for perhaps a few pretty pictures when I brought my camera along on my cross-country skiing outing yesterday at Lincoln Park in Milwaukee. And yet, I almost gave up before I started. I drove up and saw that the front of the course and practice green were all literally green in January. The temperature hovered around 40 and, wearing my Christmas present – a long “Weatheredge Plus” Eddie Bauer jacket  with hood – I was actually overdressed, as the recent snow was melting very fast. I walked further onto the course and realized enough negotiable snow remained, and embarked on my first skiing outing of the year.

However my body and brain were not ready for the odd patchwork quilt of snow and thatchy grass I was skiing on. A fairly substantial downward incline from the woods on the right side of the golf course’s Par 1 hole, down to the fairway, looked like an enjoyable glide. So I pushed over the precipice and let the skis carry me down the snow and to the edge of a bare grass patch halfway down the hill. Caught by the grass, the skis slowed precipitously, but my body’s speed and momentum did not. I tumbled forward over the skis and down onto the mess of snow and muddy grass. One ski pole flew about eight feet away.
DOH! I might have thought for a moment and anticipated this.

But, no, I learned the hard way, and gradually. I actually fell a couple more times under similar circumstances, but this is partly due to being a little out of practice in cross-country skiing. Normally I do not fall on this nine-hole ski tour, or perhaps just once.

I soon realized this was a literal punch-in-the-gut example of climate change, or global warming. Last year and the year before, when I also took a few pictures here, there had been plenty of snow on mild and amenable winter days. See the two pictures below to compare, first the selfies both taken on the same 6th hole tee vista, and then the views from there of the fifth and six fairways at Lincoln, in 2018 and 2016.

Weather patterns here and around the continent seem in a full regression to a sorrier distance from environmental normalcy and balance. Most all scientists, of course, have plenty of explanation for all this, with consumption of fossil fuels as a primary culprit in this global crisis. Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Accord also pushes planet Earth on a long slippery slope in the wrong direction. Virtually all the world’s nations, activists and worthy legislators carry on against climate change, regardless. But this is a tough, tough battle, which environmental scholar/activist Bill McKibbon calls plausibly “World War III.” This post will lead you to his recent essay in The New Republic:

World War III is here and it’s not with North Korea or Russia or any human enemy…

As for my ski outing, I’ll let the pictures do the talking (mostly) from here.

Even the brilliant sun didn’t diminish the snow two years ago on the 6th hole’s playable ground (February 16, 2016, above). Compare to the 2018 selfie scene above.

Likewise, see the snowy 5th green and fairway from the tee of the 6th hole at Lincoln Park, on February 16, 2016

Here’s the same 5th green and fairway from the tee of the 6th hole at Lincoln Park yesterday, January 19, 2018

Here’s the view looking down on Lincoln’s par-3 6th hole yesterday where, two years ago, this scene was covered in snow in February.

As the sun set, I had a long ski hike back (above) from the 6th hole to the club house and parking lot, but the relatively treacherous patches of grass forced me to not build up too much speed on the snow, at least for this out-of-practice cross-country skiier.

But I learned a thing or two while getting plenty of good exercise.

p.s. Monday: Jan 22: The drizzling rain has reduced the snow to a few measly shrinking islands. I was lucky to get that ski outing in. How many more skiiable days will we get this year? Much more importantly, northerly environments need a certain amount of snow yearly to protect flora and fauna from harsh, crippling cold snaps.

Best jazz albums of 2017 often found the big picture in all its ugly beauty

Best jazz albums 2017

Jazz musicians thought big in 2017, perhaps realizing that if a reality TV/star/oft-bankrupted real estate developer could be president, certainly a thoughtful jazz musician could reach for a large statement, beyond the notes and chords. And thus, many notable albums writ large, whether culturally or politically. In my choices for the year’s best, I strove, as always, to judge an album on the intentions –  and the merits that arose thereof.

Nevertheless, if an ambitious thematic work persuaded, and with compelling music, the impact was hard to deny. So you had albums with social or political agendas such as Nicole Mitchell’s future-vision Mandorla Awakening: Emerging Worlds; Ted Nash’s orchestral Presidential Suite, with accompanied readings of presidents and prime ministers by other well-known leaders; and the always activist-minded Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra’s Time/Life, emerging as perhaps the final statement of one of our most beloved musicians, who died a few years ago.

Less overtly political, but as musically ambitious in content and scale as any was Brian Lynch’s Madera Latino, (pictured above) a Latin jazz reinterpretation of one of the still under-sung masters of modern music, trumpeter Woody Shaw.

In contrast to Lynch’s muscular front lines, often with three brilliant trumpets riding clave rhythms, was the comparative intimacy of the duet album Masters in Bordeaux by French pianist Martial Solal and American saxophonist/flutist Dave Liebman. This showed that ultimately jazz is about dialogue, whether between two (here from different continents) or, by extension, ever-increasing groups of speakers, implying a template for the democratic process, as I have written about in depth in my forthcoming book, Voices in the River: The Jazz Message to Democracy.

Another album “bubbling under” my top ten with a capacious concept is tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger’s Meditations on Freedom. It’s redolent of Charles Mingus’ great “meditations,” though perhaps more studied. Hear sax-trumpet-bass-drums interpreting Dylan’s magnificent “Only a Pawn in their Game,” Bruce Hornsby’s “Just the Way It Is,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” and George Harrison’s”Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” Plus there’s original tributes to “Mother Earth”, “Women’s March,” “The 99%,” and more. I also loved how the deeply rootsy concept of Adam Nussbaum’s The Leadbelly Project played out.

So I encourage you to explore at least some of these titles for their layers –  musical, textual and political. You’ll be a richer, more-informed arts patron and citizen. I hope that an informed citizen and one flying with culture-vulture wings are two sides of the same coin. They might fly high enough to catch the sun’s fiery natural energy — to expand our powers of healing, production and progress in these uncertain and often-dismaying political times. In that spirit, how do we learn — without suffering the fate of Icarus — what is possible and what might be self-destructive? True collective power and compassion will usually trump narcissistic grandiosity.

Here are my choices for best jazz albums of 2017, in order of preference. I include links to my reviews of albums I covered in some depth during the year:

Brian Lynch – Presents Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw (Hollistic MusicWorks) The Milwaukee native has reached the jazz mountaintop after a humbly serious career of historically-minded music making with a dazzling two-disc set, which Illuminated one of his great models, trumpeter Woody Shaw. It ranged from the late elder’s inherent lyricism in “Sweet Love of Mine” to a wide expanse of Shaw’s meatiest, most forward-thinking post-bop jazz: “Song of Songs,” “Zoltan, “In a Capricornian Way,” and very hip Lynch originals like “Blues for Woody and Khalid” (for the recently passed Khalid Larry Young, the innovative organist perhaps best known for his classic album Unity! with Woody, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew etc.).  Accordingly, The Jazz Journalists Association chose this as album of the year and Lynch as trumpeter of the year. Kudos to Brian (no relation to the writer).

Here’s a nifty video on the Madera Latino recording sessions:

Nicole Mitchell  – Mandorla Awakening: Emerging Worlds (FPE)

Flutist-composer Nicole Mitchell brings her utopian vision to Milwaukee

Tom Harrell – Moving Picture (High Note) review/preview:

As the days dwindle down, jazz heats up in Milwaukee

Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra – Time/Life (Impulse!)

Ted Nash Big Band  – Presidential Suite (Motema)

Chris Potter – The Dreamer is the Dream (ECM)

Martial Solal & Dave Liebman – Masters in Bordeaux (Sunnyside)

Miguel Zenon – Tipico (Miel Music)

Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band –  Body and Shadow (Blue Note)

Fred Hersch – Open Book (Palmetto)


Jackie Allen – Rose Fingered Dawn: The Songs of Hans Sturm (Avant Bass)

Jackie Allen mesmerises with personal vision and poetic music


Dominique Eade and Ran Blake – Town & Country (Sunnyside)

Gregory Porter – Nat “King” Cole & Me (Blue Note)

Father Sky – Father Sky (Self-released) Sleeper album of the year.

Father Sky is soulful music to your ears and to the earth


Thelonious Monk – Les Liasons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam) If anyone ever understood, “ugly beauty” – as we hope to put a palatable face on contemporary America – it was Monk, who built an aesthetic on the notion, and even wrote a tune titled “Ugly Beauty.” Here he’s in his prime, hard-swinging but ever-cubistic and melodic, for a soundtrack that was never used — probably because it’s too strong and arresting to be movie background music.


Idrees Sulieman Quartet – The Four American Jazzmen in Tangier, featuring Oscar Dennard (Sunnyside)

On “Dog,” bluesman Charlie Parr sees canines on a par with humans

Charlie Parr  Dog  (Red House Records) 

The great contemporary country blues artist Charlie Parr manages a trick of sly self-portraiture in his new album. His ingenious title song emanates from a dog’s point of view. The hound objects to a human-centric injustice, as Parr sings, “You say that I need to be trained/ when I’m only doing what nature demands.”

That could also be Parr, seemingly born to play nothing more schooled than the most elemental blues, often a one-chord vamp adorned with a repeated fingerstyle arabesque,.three chords at the most. At song’s end, he lets on: Rain down the water that created us both/ My old man’s soul in this old dog’s coat/ And a soul is a soul is a soul.

Image result for charlie parr dog

Charlie Parr’s album “Dog” is available both as a CD and a vinyl LP, from Red House Records.

Most every song has such a verse of rough-hewn poetry, like several in the naked lament of a failed, perhaps suicidal, father in “Hobo.” This feels like Parr’s most personal album, with most songs either in the first person or, as in “Rich Food and Easy Living,” he enters at the song’s last moment to possibly save the indulgent, prodigal woman from herself.

He can also project others’ plights authentically, as in “Salt Water,” which conveys the utter desolation of so many hurricane-flooded people still hanging on today in Texas, Miami and Puerto Rico:

Heavy air has invaded my past/ and stolen my family / they’re swirling above me / high in the mist / but I don’t know if I’ll see them again

Here and elsewhere, Parr’s plaintively mangy voice wholly befits his material. On the stunning “Sometimes I’m Alright,” his faltering pipes sound like his spirit is draining out of him with each exhalation. The Minnesotan knows all about the cold winter of a soul.– Parr admits he struggles with clinical depression, and did during the uphill making of the album. On “Lowdown” he tells the story of a deluded loser while inserting a one-line first-person refrain to embody Lowdown’s pathos. Parr’s own struggle only enhances an immensely impressive album, blessed with help from several excellent musicians who lend musical body without fleshiness. It’s just pointed, raw-to-the-bone, heartfelt blues.

Parr’s steel resonator guitar playing adds much of the earthy character and energy of his music, Courtesy sweetpeafestival

Among his uptempo songs, the defiantly scrambling “Another Dog” captures the essence of a high-spirited canine with a buzzing, Eastern-toned guitar mode; and “I Ain’t Dead Yet” bristles with Dylanesque attitude and wit:

Well I ain’t dead yet

Lemme have them flowers right now

I can’t smell ‘em so good

when I’m locked in that box

underneath the ground

I ain’t dead yet

gimme my flowers now 

Thank the god of dogs (or is it the dog of gods?) that down-in-the-dumps Charlie Parr ain’t dead yet, not by a long shot.


This review was originally published in shorter form in The Shepherd Express





Searching for Harry Frishman, a splendid climber and mountain guide

The Middle Teton’s summit in winter of 2014, but probably similar to what it looked like when Harry Frishman climbed it in January of 1982. Courtesy

I recall Harry Frishman, for all his courage, as a man of almost Zen-like serenity. In the summer of 1980, he expertly guided his son Cullen, Mike Pellman and me up a climb that was the climax of my mountaineering experience. He instilled confidence in me with his forthright but calm demeanor. We were attempting to climb Peregrine’s Arete, only the third-party to ever tackle this peak in the Tetons. Because the great mountaineer Yvon Chouinard had discovered the peak not long beforehand, we had no very detailed information on the climb route.  Harry, an Exum mountain service guide, had never seen this rock before

“We may just end up doing a first climb ourselves,” Harry said at the time, stuffing the rough directions he’d received from Chouinard back that his pocket. He began climbing with a graceful poise (story continued below).

Exum climbing guide Harry Frishman muses quietly as we ride a boat across Jenny Lake to encounter rarely-climbed Peregrine’s Arete in the Tetons, in the summer of 1980. Perhaps he was contemplating the tragic climb in Nepal he was planning for three weeks later.

Guide Harry Frishman, right, and his teenage son Cullen pause atop the summit of Peregrine’s Arete.

Your disheveled blogger, Kevernacular, struggles to gather his wits atop Peregrine’s Arete, after two nasty falls which left him dangling over eternity at the end of a rope.

Natural foods store owner Mike Pellman was Harry Frishman’s other client on our climb in the summer of 1980. Here’s happy Mike on the summit. Photo by Kevin Lynch.

Peregrine’s Arete, in the foreground, isn’t as majestic as some of the  taller Teton peaks, but it was the most difficult climbing challenge of my life.

Here’s guide Harry Frishman at the top of a pitch on Peregrine’s Arete.The climb provided some excellent views, on the left is Hanging Canyon from the Arete, and on the right is a view of the ground of Grand Teton National Park, far below.

It was a memorable and really tough climb on which I took two nasty falls on the same pitch, a long vertical crack which is visible in the photo of the arete above. Something flashed before my eyes as I fell my death, unsurprisingly, but no one else. I recall saying out loud to myself and the mountain later, as we descended, “I’m thirty years old, I’m too old to be climbing this mountain!” I fully recount the climb in a long feature article I wrote about it for The Milwaukee Journal Discover section. You can access the full article below.

But why do I bring this up at this point in time? It certainly was a sort of happenstance, but I had to tell the story.
I had recently asked my girlfriend Ann Peterson if I had ever shown her the Journal article and she told me she had read it a few years ago, but she was disappointed because she never knew what happened to my guide Harry Frishman.
At the end of my Journal article I wrote an epilogue. Three weeks after our climb of Peregrine’s Arete, Frishman traveled to Chinese Nepal to climb 24,790-foot Mount Minya Konka, with Yvon Chouinard and several other climbers. An avalanche swept the climbers 1,500 feet down the mountainside. One of the climbers died of a broken neck.

But this was before the Internet, so I was unable to get further information about the climb at the time.
Yet now, Ann’s comment about Harry’s fate spurred me to Google his name recently. Sure enough, he had survived the avalanche in China. But I found an article about a climb he did in January 1982 on The Middle Teton, back in Wyoming.

The Middle Teton is the third tallest peak in The Tetons. A distinctive feature known as the black dike appears as a straight line running from near the top of the mountain down 800 feet.[6] (See photo below) The black dike is a basaltic intrusion that occurred long after the surrounding rock was formed.[5]

Here’s the Middle Teton in August in the mid-1970s. Note the large face, one of the most imposing in North America, and the distinctive black dike on the face. Photo by Kevin Lynch

This peak poses a special challenge, even to the most skilled and experienced climbers, like Harry and his companion, Mark Whitten. They decided to climb the Northwest Ice Couloir. The story gave me chills in more ways than one. I had always been intrigued by ice climbing but had never gotten around to doing it. The challenge, different from rock climbing, is that your body grapples not only with gravity but the vagaries of frozen water as a climbing surface.

In the story I discovered, Craig Patterson, a Grand Teton National Park Ranger, interviewed Mark Whitten after the climb. Patterson recounts:

“This route is described in Leigh Ortenburger’s A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range as ‘a difficult high-angle snow and ice climb.’ It is rated at Grade II, F6. Both Frishman and Whitten had extensive mountaineering experience. That morning they left the Lower Saddle and began ascending the Northwest Couloir. They decided to climb unroped, although they carried a rope with them. They also had crampons and ice-climbing tools but no hard hats.


The Northwest Ice Couloir of The Middle Teton, where Harry Frishman and Mark Whitten climbed, without ropes, in January 1982. This photo shows a lead climber — a belay from below secures him, relatively speaking. Photo courtesy

Around 11:15 a.m., Whitten successfully reached the top of the couloir, with Frishman close behind. A few feet from the top, Frishman slipped. He was unable to self-arrest on the steep ice and fell approximately 2,000 feet to his death. Whitten was unable to reach Frishman, so he ran out to the Moose Visitor Center for help.”

Reading the story, I felt the wind knocked out of me. My eyes welled up a bit. Harry Frisman had always remained a vivid memory, a quiet but gracious man.

(Here’s a link to Patterson’s story, including more details about Harry’s fall: Middle Teton ice climb )

I’ve read that Harry was also a big practical joker. So you can rarely capture a person with one charcterization, such as the uncanny calm I sensed in him as he led us up our climb, two years earlier.

Fate had played a practical joke on Harry, the biggest joke of all, bigger than any mountain he had ever climbed. Our Peregrine’s  Arete climb was graded an F6, like the Middle Teton, maybe a F7, Harry had speculated at the time. But that was in late summer. I wonder now why the two climbers decided not to use their ropes and belay up on the icy, treacherous coilour. Harry was 38, older than the 20-year-olds who typically feel invincible. He was also father and a husband. But his was the climber’s life and its awful, inevitable risk.
He had survived a far more ominous climb and avalanche in Nepal. So maybe he felt he had the upper hand on fate as as he came a few steps away from the Middle Teton summit that cold January day.

Harry Frishman and his bride Libby, also a climber, when they married in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1972. Photo courtesy


Photos by Mike Pellman, unless otherwise indicated.

Here’s my article about the Peregrine’s Arete climb with Harry Frishman in 1980:


Stumbling upon Winslow Homer on a November trip to the great lake front



Kevernacular with Winslow Homer’s “The Berry Pickers” (as it were) in its new home. With Cookie Monster as security guard. Photo by Ann Peterson

Late autumn, it was a surprisingly alluring November day, and I wanted to get to our great lake. I’d felt cooped up by various tasks and distractions on my computer. So I got on my bike and headed from my Riverwest home for Lake Michigan at Atwater Beach in Shorewood.

Little did I know, something like a force of fate led me, in more ways than one – a Winslow Homer-like instinct towards the vast waterfront, to perhaps find inspiration or replenishment, as I had in a recent visit to the Shorewood Nature  Preserve on the lakefront, which I documented on a previous blog.

For me, it’s also a Melvillian instinct, which I’m susceptible to, given my deep, rather scholarly interest – some might call it an obsession – with Herman Melville, which has led to me to write a novel-in-progress about the great writer. As Ishmael famously observes in the opening page of Moby-Dick : “Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…Then, I count it high time to get to the sea as soon as I can.”

Homer, an East Coast dweller who drew deeply from his close proximity to the ocean, was also inspired by the experience of an English seaport town which helped forge his mature style. The latter point is the premise of a major Winslow Homer exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum opening March 1, 2018, for which I will write a preview article for The Shepherd Express newspaper and a more in-depth review on this blog.

Melville and Homer were also sea-loving 19th century contemporaries in forging original American art forms, as part of the so-called “American Renaissance.”  Each was arguably the greatest 19th century Americans at their art and craft, and both largely self-taught. 

Winslow Homer, 1867, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, from catalogue of exhibit “Winslow Homer,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, 1995.

It was surprising, but not really, how many people were down on Atwater Beach that afternoon. Some hardy souls even braved the water trying to catch a few waves to surf on. The lake has a powerful draw for many people. I wondered fancifully how many of these were astrological “water signs” like I am.

After my interlude atop the bluff, I headed back down Capitol Drive and noticed that the mild weather had prompted the second-hand shop Chattel Changers to put out some of its wares on the street. If you’re not in a rush, this place is always a temptation for bargain-hunters of interesting and distinctive used and antique items largely acquired from estate sales and consignment. Plus, I have a personal affinity for this place as years ago it housed The Hayes Gallery, where I had a two-man show of my sculpture, my first gallery showing after my graduation with a BFA at UW-Milwaukee.

The place has an amazing amount of merchandise crammed into its two floors with artwork, furniture, oddities and knick-knacks of every imaginable sort and a number of items of quality craftsmanship. I was actually looking for a gift for someone and, sure enough, I found it, though I can’t reveal that item here.

Chattel Changers. Courtesy Chattel Changers Facebook page.

I wandered a bit deeper into the basement when something caught my eye. It looked like a large, framed watercolor painting. It was well-hidden, behind two lamps with fulsome shades. But what struck me immediately was the style of this scene, a depiction of two young women and children hunting for wild berries along a windy coastal spot.  “That’s a Winslow Homer,” I said almost aloud to myself.

I had been a fan of Homer’s for a long time and had even once travelled to New York partly to see and write about a major Homer exhibit in 1996 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which included most of his masterpieces, many utterly drenched in ocean experience and drama, such as “Gulf Stream,” “Breezing Up (a Fair Wind), “Undertow,” and “The Life Line.”

My pulse quickened: Even from behind the lampshades, this looked just like a large Homer watercolor, and a scene set on a the Atlantic ocean shore. The label identified the title as “The Berry Pickers” and, yes, Homer’s signature was quite legible in the lower right corner, with the date “July 1873” inscribed. Could this really be a Homer watercolor? It’s well-known that many art treasures hang in the homes of any number of Milwaukee area residences. Could this watercolor have somehow snuck past the discerning eyes of whomever purchases and prices items here? The label said $53.85, but if you know Chattel Changers they have a system of reducing item prices over time with the actual dates of ensuing price reductions listed on the label.

I stood admiring the scene. Two young women stand at the far left, one holding a small pail in her hand. The ocean wind is clearly high from the hat of each woman. The end of an ornamental ribbon flies horizontally from each woman’s hat lid, a deft way to convey the presence of that powerful force of nature. The woman in the foreground leans back against a large boulder, as if to steady herself against the wind. Below the women, several children search knee- or elbow-deep in the underbrush, hoping to pluck the small, precious fruit.  On the horizon, the silhouette of a steep hill stands over the edge of the oceanfront horizon. Wispy clouds waft above the berry pickers. The composition, earthy colors and textural qualities add up to something truly beautiful, in Homer’s surprisingly modern manner (more on this later).

I wondered what exactly to do. I peered suspiciously around the room. A few bargain-hunters lurked in the basement room. One woman looked back at me inscrutably. Why exactly did they linger here?  I took a deep breath and made a decision. I was traveling by bicycle, so I decided to pay them to hold the gift item, which was too delicate and unwieldy to carry in my backpack, along with some groceries I needed. So I told the cashier I’d be back the next day for it, without mentioning the Homer artwork downstairs.

But I figured it had been here for a while, and I hoped to God that – as obscured as it was by the two large lamps – it would be a safe bet to be there tomorrow.

I slept fitfully that night, and I thought: “Fool! Why didn’t you ask them to hold it for you?” I returned in my car in the morning, shortly after they opened.

I went down the stairs and into the back room. Sure enough, the Homer artwork remained, waiting for me, like a gorgeous but impatient blind date, who didn’t know me from Adam.

With some contortion of effort, I reached past the two bulbous lampshades and managed to pull “The Berry Pickers” down off the wall and take a better look at it under direct lamplight.  On the back I saw a large label: “‘The Berry Pickers,’ Winslow Homer. The Colby College Museum of Art.’ ” 1

I turned it back over and saw that the aqueous, gestural quality of the watercolor seemed quite real. I could also see portions of the loosely-rendered outlines of the figures and the landscape that Homer had sketched out in pencil or graphite. Then, I looked closer at the paper itself. I could detect no texture characteristic of watercolor paper, nor had it any signs of aging, for ostensibly being 144-year-old paper. I let out a wistful sigh, and realized I was looking at a reproduction, although a very good one. Nevertheless, this was a sturdily-framed reproduction that, at a glance and even an extended appreciation, looks for all the world like a large and real Winslow Homer watercolor.

I figured, I’ve got to get this for $50, and I’d find a place for it on my already art-filled walls. I got upstairs and asked for the gift item they had held for me. Then I asked what precisely the cost was for the Homer watercolor reproduction. The woman did a little calculating and said, “Twenty dollars.”

Twenty dollars.  My disappointment over the possible steal of a lifetime rekindled in  realizing I could own this handsome, quite lovely Homer image in my home for a mere twenty bucks. And here, a few blocks from Lake Michigan, this was the sort of find you might expect to luck upon in a similar shop a few blocks from Homer’s beloved stormy Atlantic Ocean.

Though I own plenty of original art, I’m hardly too proud or well-off to frame and hang good reproductions. Among my personal favorites are of Sam Francis’s great 1958 abstract-expressionist painting “The Whiteness of the Whale,” named for a famous chapter in Moby-Dick, as well as a reproduction of Honore Daumier’s marvelous painting of social-commentary art “Third-Class Carriage,” from 1862, which I’d given to my mother long ago as a gift, and received it back when she passed away in 2009.

I loaded up my car with my treasures and headed home.

Part Two:  A Close Look at Winslow Homer’s “The Berry Pickers.”

Why Was I so captivated by my newly-purchased reproduction of Homer’s “The Berry Pickers”? One overarching reason is that Homer’s work is akin to the innovative American literary breakthroughs of Melville, Whitman, Thoreau,  Dickinson, and Poe, which continue to stimulate and even challenge us today. Homer embraced, interpreted and captured the richness and wildness of a New World that was still only partially tamed. He captured America asserting its power in its relation to the world and understood coming to terms with its relationship to the rough grandeur and beauty of the American landscape and its mighty surrounding oceans. That amounted to a distinctively American style and sensibility, one that had shed the dominant conventions and presuppositions of European culture.

Being largely self-taught, he took from certain timeless values of Western culture while reasserting his own native instincts and talents.
Although the subject matter of the berry pickers is hardly heroic or dramatic, it describes an aspect of our relation to our indigenous natural setting and resources. And for me, Homer found liberation in his creative quest, and anticipated European modernists in his stylistic innovations by several decades.
Take a closer look at “The Berry Pickers.” Homer delights in the opportunity to use watercolor on a large and fairly expensive scale. And he understands implicitly when less is more, and the way you can use negative space as part of your storytelling and composition and visual dynamics.

Notice the two details of the watercolor I have highlighted here. In the first, (above, with his signature at the bottom), you see a rather footloose and fancy smattering and smearing of brushwork and paint in suggesting the summery field blooming with wildflowers and fruit. The bounty, and the berry-picking figures in the lower right corner are represented by suggestive smudges and globs with only roughly-hewn renderings of their sun hats clearly specifying their presence. Branches of the trees counterpoint with their own and nearby leaves, in a loose, dancing fashion as they rise above the horizon. And yet Homer is hardly above inserting a touch of playful humor with the small bird that alights upon one of the branches, perhaps waiting to snatch a juicy morsel that falls free amid the joyous picking.

In the second detail (above), you see that Homer actually leaves unpainted large portions of the shoulders, arms and hats of the young hunters in the foreground, freely rendered such as they are. These two whole lower sections amount to a daring, even radical artistic gambit, for 1873. See the yellow-dressed girl’s hair, also very loosely rendered, as are her garment’s folds and bunches. This all forms a meandering abstract pattern that engages the mind and senses. It is almost as if the figures themselves are at one with the freely-growing wilds of the field.

I think this is the sort of close adherence to formal coherence in a loose, articulate yet expressive manner that even the rigorously formalist abstract-expressionist art critic Clement Greenberg would have approved of.
Similarly, the relation between the standing woman in the foreground and her dress, with her jagged cast shadow set against the hulking boulder, is another striking compositional bon mot. The hat ribbons fluttering in the wind inject an element of natural power and action to this enchanting scene.

And yet, Homer also holds his work loosely  together along  the classical composition “golden mean” by breaking the composition in two-thirds portions, horizontally and vertically. The shore beneath the waterline delineates the horizontal division and the subtle-but-striking presence of the big, pointed mound in the background suggests the division vertically. In effect, the whole scene hangs on that grid.

Overall, Homer clearly strove here to capture a living, breathing scene of beauty. This is a work of abundant lyricism and life and, for sure, something one can easily live with on one’s living room wall, day after day after day.

And all that for twenty dollars.


  1. Winslow Homer’s original watercolor of “The Berry Pickers” now resides in The National Gallery in Washington, though at the time my reproduction was framed it evidently was the property of the Colby College Museum of Art, in Waterville, Maine.

Photos by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise indicated.





Flutist-composer Nicole Mitchell brings her utopian vision to Milwaukee

Nicole Mitchell. Photo by Lauren Deutsch courtesy  

Nicole Mitchell Quartet, Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St., Alternating Currents Live Series, 7 p.m. Sunday, December 10, $8 general admission, $7 student & seniors, $6 WPBC members

Alex Wing– bass
Felton Offard – guitar
Jovia Armstrong – percussion
Nicole MItchell – flutes, compositions

Flutist-composer Nicole Mitchell sounds like the pied piper to a new future, a utopian dream melding human courage, advanced technology and nature.

She’s extraordinary because, despite its radiant qualities, the flute has occupied a comparatively humble place in both jazz, classical and pop music, all too often being a refuge, and a musical ghetto, for women musicians.

In the post-bop jazz era, the instrument found some footing, as some multi-instrumentalists helped advance the flute’s sonic and expressive possibilities, including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, and Lew Tabackin, and Herbie Mann showed the flute could thrive in funky groove-oriented realms. Flutist Jeremy Steig revealed a more adventurous imagination, perhaps a precursor to Mitchell. In the 1970s, a black female jazz-pop flutist also emerged, Bobbi Humphrey.

Starting in the late 1970s, James Newton expanded on the more classical flute technique Hubert Laws had applied to jazz and became among the first to make ambitious, stately and highly-textural original statements focussed on the instrument, and to extend the jazz tradition.

In recent times, however, no one has taken the slender, silver sound-mover further than California-born Chicagoan Nicole Mitchell. She reminds us the flute conveys among the most celestial of sounds but also, in its closeness to pure breath, among the most human and organic. The elastic space across that spectrum actually holds powers of great, moving evocation and beauty, a region she has consistently explored and expanded.

Nicole Mitchell. Courtesy

She’s become also an increasingly conceptual artist. Now, her most recent album, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE Records), amounts to a stunning and transporting culmination of her efforts to weave a majestic tapestry of jazz, gospel, experimentalism, pop and African percussion — through albums such as Black Unstoppable (Delmark, 2007), Awakening (Delmark, 2011), and Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12, 2008), which received commissioning support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works.

Mitchell also has served as the first woman president of Chicago’s internationally-influential  Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Among AACM musicians who also advanced the role of flute are Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton. But the expansiveness of Mitchell’s vision seems more akin to pre-AACM space-jazz bandleader Sun Ra and perhaps Pulitzer-winning AACM brass player-composer Wadada Leo Smith.

None of these predecessors diminish the originality of Mitchell’s artistic quest. She is currently a Professor of Music, teaching in “Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology,” (ICIT) a new cutting-edge graduate program at the University of California, Irvine. Mitchell has received the DownBeat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association awards as “Top Flutist of the Year” for four consecutive years (2010-2014) and again in 2017, from the JJA. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago commissioned Mandorla.

“Mandorla Awakening II” album cover. Courtesy FPE Records.

In her liner notes, Mitchell describes Mandorla as a society formed on “an obscure island in the Atlantic” in 2099. Amid the “inevitable decay” of contemporary society, “a vibrant, diverse, and technologically adept culture emerges…an egalitarian society designed by people who had survived the destructive forces of the egos war and the global virus .”

The more specific musical story poetically describes Mandorla as possible by the striving for “the sound of truth” generated by “sticking our hands in the black soil” and allowing birds to “sing interlocking songs of imagination.” The sound seems “the one thread we hold to pull (to safety) our loved ones dangling over the cliff, close to peril and poverty.”

So one can readily imagine interlocking birdsong evoked by her flute, but the album’s larger ensemble canvas also entails, in the piece “Timewrap,”  (Or “timewarp?” her titles tend to wordplay),  a moan, engendered from the history of slavery, from blood in the fields, from perhaps Toni Morrison’s ghostly, tragic Beloved. “That moan was a seed of liberation.” Mitchell writes. “That moan love for life. That moan is determination. That moan has been a grain of sand that calls our destiny and survival of humanity.”

So Mandorla opens with “Egoes War,” a pulse, big sonic texture, a thick wash of electronic and acoustic effects. A forlorn theme emerges on flute, sounding both ancient and futuristic. The guitar is a space traveler or an ego tripper. (Alex Wing, who plays guitar, oud, and theremin on the album, will be part of Mitchell’s quartet here, along with guitarist

Felton Offard and the album’s percussionist Jovia Armstrong). This piece does sound warlike, but strangely beautiful. Mitchell’s tone and wary flute theme spiral into the toxic haze like a shaman-goddess working to ease the bloodletting, perhaps allowing a purging of toxins. A descending line repeats like a gentle, insistent jeremiad. Percussion work sizzles and crackles like wildfire of fear and perhaps hope.

The second piece “Sub-Mission” starts tentatively, with shakuhachi flute, oud, and other AACM-ish “little instruments.” The foundlings of the vibrant, multi-cultural “technologically adept” culture are emerging on the remote Atlantic island. Mitchell’s flute sounds like an explorer on this island, a violin also wends its way through the uncertainty, the flute emboldens with full-throated courage. Then, a pirouetting, lyrical dance arises among the instruments, followed by a somewhat ominous interlude set against Tomeka Reid’s cello, which spawns its own strange beauty. This all suggests facing the challenge of letting go of old ways and submitting to the possibility of a new, enlightened society.

Plenty more ensues in Mandorla Awakening, including several vocals to advance the drama and storyline. But I’ll leave the discovery of that to you, and to those parts of Mandorla that may ensue at Sunday’s concert.

In this age of Trump and regressive, authoritarian politics, her sort of creative consciousness feels urgent, replenishing, empowering.

Make no mistake; Nicole Mitchell is out there, forging ahead, her talismanic flute catching the light of a new dawn.